PrEP Aware Week, launched in 2019 by the New York State Department of Health’s AIDS Institute, is taking place in a very different climate this year. While we have all been concerned about safety and practicing the 3 Ws (Wear a mask, Wash your hands, and Watch your distance), the existence of the pandemic doesn’t mean that people aren’t having sex. We must continue to ensure that everybody knows about PrEP and how to access it.
PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is one of the most effective tools we have to prevent HIV, proven to reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by 99% when taken daily. New York has made great progress towards an HIV-free future, due in large part to the expansion of PrEP awareness and education.
PrEP Aware Week takes place from Sunday, October 25 through Saturday, October 31. The theme of this year’s campaign is: “This is Why I PrEP,” recognizing the individualized approach of PrEP to HIV prevention and sexual health.
Many people are still unaware of PrEP, mistakenly think it is unaffordable, don’t know where to access it, fear stigma around PrEP, or have inaccurate information about side effects. Communities most impacted by HIV (young gay and bisexual men, particularly men of color; transgender people; and women of color) are using PrEP less than other groups. Additionally, because of COVID-19, some clinics that provide PrEP services have had to reduce hours, eliminate or reallocate staff resources, or temporarily close.
What Must Be Done
Ending the HIV/AIDS the epidemic in New York will require increasing the number of Medicaid beneficiaries on PrEP from 6,000 to 30,000. To achieve this:
- Health plans and providers should ensure that people who seek testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are informed about PrEP.
- Clinicians should continue to ensure PrEP availability for patients newly initiating treatment and those continuing PrEP use. The CDC has suggested that medical providers consider offering a prescription for a 90-day supply (as opposed to a 30-day supply with two refills) to help reduce the number of patient requests and improve adherence.
- As individuals, we can all reach out to anyone we think could benefit from knowing about PrEP, and we can post #PrEPAwareWeek messages on social media. Additionally, we should offer resources and links that include PrEP information (including Amida Care, Centers for Disease Control PrEP Basics, NYC Health Department PrEP Info, and the NYS Health Department PrEP for Sex).
- People should be encouraged to engage their providers in conversations about PrEP to find out if it is right for them and where to access treatment. If they are not comfortable talking to their current doctors, they should seek PrEP-savvy providers available through various resources (NYC of Health-Where to Get PrEP, Callen-Lorde, CHN).
We join the AIDS institute in helping to spread the word and establish PrEP as a positive, effective, and empowering way to promote sexual health and wellness that everyone should consider.